High school football 2023 guide: National matchups, top talent, new coaches


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The college football season might still be a few weeks away, but fear not — high school football season has officially arrived. And based on the talent level of this 2024 recruiting class, the 2023 season should offer plenty of excitement.

Five-star quarterback Dylan Raiola, the nation’s top prospect and a Georgia commit, has transferred to Buford (Ga). High School, where the Wolves are hoping to win a 7A state championship after an early exit in the playoffs last year.

Elijah Rushing, a five-star edge committed to Arizona, takes the field for his final season ahead of potentially becoming the Wildcats’ first five-star signee of the modern recruiting era.

And one of the nation’s premiere programs — Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif. — will usher in a new head coach for the first time in 34 seasons after coach Bruce Hollinson retired and defensive backs coach Frank McManus got the nod.

Consider this your high school football primer as the season kicks off Friday night. Here’s what The Athletic will be watching.

National matchups coming Friday night

There is no shortage of big-time matchups, starting as early as Friday night and featuring some of the nation’s top prospects.

First up: Class 6A Langston Hughes (Ga.) travels to Class 7A Carrollton (Ga)., where the quarterbacks should steal the show. Langston Hughes is quarterbacked by four-star Ohio State commit Air Noland, who also fielded offers from Alabama, Clemson and others. The 6-foot-3, 195 pound lefty led Langston Hughes to an undefeated season in 2022, capped with a state title.


Why Ohio State is Air Noland’s ‘dream school’ and what the 4-star QB brings to the Buckeyes

Carrollton is quarterbacked by sophomore Julian Lewis, a 2026 prospect, who has been in the spotlight since he was a 14-year-old eighth grader and already has offers from Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and plenty of others. Noland has four-star receiver and LSU commit Joseph Stone at his side. Lewis has four-star tight end and Alabama commit Caleb Odom. Carrollton is also coached by Joey King, most famous for coaching Trevor Lawrence in high school in Cartersville, Ga. You can watch the game on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. ET. Buckle up.

Also on Friday night, Lipscomb Academy (Tenn.) hosts IMG Academy (Fla.) in a matchup oozing with top talent. Four-star Lipscomb cornerback Kaleb Beasley is the state’s top prospect and is committed to Tennessee. He’s joined on defense by four-star linebacker Edwin Spillman, who is also committed to the Vols. Perhaps most interesting, though, Friday night will mark the coaching debut of former NFL star and Hall of Famer Kevin Mawae, who takes over for Trent Dilfer, Lipscomb’s former coach and now the head coach at UAB.

IMG Academy, of course, is overflowing with talent: five-star cornerback Ellis Robinson IV (Georgia), five-star defensive lineman David Stone (uncommitted), four-star offensive lineman Jordan Seaton (uncommitted), four-star running back Jerrick Gibson (Texas), four-star athlete Jonathan Echols (Tennessee) and four-star safety Jordon Johnson-Rubell (Texas). All are top-150 players nationally by the 247Sports Composite.

Last but not least on Friday night, McManus makes his debut when Mater Dei travels to Corona Centennial. Mater Dei is quarterbacked by Stanford commit Elijah Brown and boasts five-star offensive tackle Brandon Baker, five-star defensive lineman Aydin Breland, four-star Georgia running back commit Nate Frazier, four-star Alabama cornerback commit Zabien Brown and four-star offensive lineman DeAndre Carter as top-150 players.



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Duncanville (Texas) is loaded

Duncanville (Texas) doesn’t kick off its season until next week, but keep an eye on the Panthers this season. They are stacked.

It all starts with five-star edge Colin Simmons, who recently committed to Texas as the No. 8 prospect nationally and the top in-state player. There’s running back Caden Durham, a four-star and the nation’s No. 93 prospect, who committed to LSU on the same day Simmons committed to the Longhorns. Three-star defensive lineman Alex January is also committed to Texas and four-star safety Ka’Davion Dotson is committed to SMU. In the Class of 2025, there’s five-star wide receiver Dakorien Moore, who committed to LSU just two days after Durham.

Raiola joins a flashy Buford team

Raiola made national headlines when he transferred from Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, Ariz. — the former home of South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler and USC tight end Duce Robinson — to Buford in Georgia. He’s likely to continue to dominate the headlines at his new school, but he’s far from the only top prospect on coach Bryant Appling’s team.

Buford is home to five-star Florida State safety commit KJ Bolden, five-star defensive lineman Eddrick Houston and four-star North Carolina commit Tyshun White. Raiola, Bolden and Houston are the state’s Nos. 1, 2 and 6 prospects, respectively, and the Nos. 1, 7 and 23 prospects nationally. Bolden stunned much of the recruiting world when he committed to Florida State earlier this month over Georgia, Ohio State and Auburn.

“It’s always been his dream school,” Appling said.

Houston is expected to issue a commitment on Tuesday.

“Eddrick, he’s a low-key kid and he’s not about a bunch of the attention,” Appling said. “He kind of wants to get it over with. I think he knows what he wants to do. He’s kind of set in figuring out where he’s gonna go. …It’s gonna be a great fit for him.”

Quarterback Trever Jackson one to watch

Four-star quarterback Trever Jackson, the nation’s No. 15 quarterback, is the highest-ranked QB who remains uncommitted. Jackson is from Orlando, Fla., and most recently visited Maryland and Ole Miss. Oklahoma offered him last month.

Given the way recruiting has gone in recent years, we’re seeing more and more quarterbacks make early commitments before their senior — or even junior — seasons begin. That leaves little room for potential late-bloomers to pick up traction during their senior seasons, but Jackson could fall into that category with a strong season. Ole Miss, a potential landing spot, does not yet have a quarterback commit in this class.

Enjoy Gatlin Bair

Four-star wide receiver Gatlin Bair out of Burley Senior (Idaho) High School is one of the most exciting prospects in the Class of 2024. He’s faster than NFL star receiver Tyreek Hill by one-one hundredth of a second and is committed to Boise State as the nation’s No. 10 receiver.

But Bair plans to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and isn’t expected to suit up for the Broncos until 2026. He could be an instant star three years from now, but be sure to soak up his senior season. It’s rare we see speed like Bair’s, who is on pace to become the highest-rated signee in Boise State history.

(Top photo of Jerrick Gibson: Manny Navarro / The Athletic)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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